He stood far closer to her than would be normally be proper, his bare hand clutching her gloved one. When she took a shallow breath (the only sort permitted by her corset), she caught a hints of cloves and jasmine. The scent, in combination with the pitiless sun, made her briefly dizzy.
She examined him more closely. Although he was dressed in Siamese costume, silk pantaloons and a form-fitting white jacket with brass buttons, he wore his coal-black hair cut in Western style rather than bound into a top-knot. His complexion was the color of antique ivory. Behind his wire-rimmed spectacles, his eyes were like pools of melted chocolate. His beardless features looked boyish but his broad shoulders and narrow waist suggested he was at least as old as her own twenty three years.
"Quite impressive," she said, finally. "My father will be interested to hear about this."
"Your father? Oh dear, please forgive me once more. I get so involved with my little projects that I completely forget my manners." He drew himself up to his full height, a few inches taller than Caroline's petite stature. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ruangkornpongpipat Suriyarasamee. Please, don't even try to pronounce it! My friends call me 'Pete'." He squeezed her hand and gazed boldly into her eyes. "I hope that I shall be able to count you among them."
Caroline felt hot blood climb into her cheeks. "Suriyarasamee - I've heard that name, I think."
"My father is one of the wealthiest merchants in Bangkok - quite fortunately for me, since he has ample resources to support my investigations. I am surprised that a foreigner would be aware of him, though. Who are you, if I might ask?"
"Caroline Fortescue-Smythe, at your service," she replied, still embarrassed by her earlier rudeness. "The daughter of Thomas Fortescue-Smythe, Her Majesty Queen Victoria's ambassador to Siam."
"Ah, that explains it. My father frequently attends diplomatic parties. You may even have met him." He released her, reluctantly it seemed. "Well, Miss Caroline - I do hope you will allow me to use your given name according to our custom, since Fortescue-Smythe is almost as much of a mouthful as my own moniker - I am truly delighted to meet you. And I apologize most sincerely for my clumsiness."
"There was no harm done." Caroline realized that she was still blushing. Meanwhile, her heart danced a hornpipe under her tight bodice. "I - um - I should get back to our box. My father will be concerned. Please excuse me..."
"Wait!" He snagged her hand once more and heat shimmered through her. "Do not go yet."
"I must. I'm sorry..."
"It's such a pleasure to converse with you. It's not often I meet a woman, Siamese or European, with any interest in technology. Look, are you engaged this evening?"
"I've arranged a little performance at my house, for some of my friends. Another one of my creations. I'd love for you to come see it. With your father, of course..."
"I'll send an invitation with the details to the ambassadorial residence this afternoon. I hope I will see you this evening. Until then, Miss Caroline." Pete raised her hand to his lips as though to kiss it, but appeared confused by her glove. Finally, he turned her hand palm up and pressed his lips against her bare wrist. He lingered there for an endless moment. The wet tip of his tongue flicked across her pulse point. Electricity arced up her spine.
He smiled into her eyes, nodded, and moved on, pointing his recording device once again at the horses thundering down the track. The strip of naked skin between her glove and her sleeve tingled long after he'd disappeared into the crowd. It was several minutes before she recovered.